en plein aire

I can’t bear another gray morning …. so I invent a bit of brightness in the landscape.  My front porch protects me from getting soaked to the bone.

Rainy Winter Morning ... in my dreams

Still the same palette I’ve used all week: Scarlet Lake, Cadmium Lemon, Cobalt Blue and Titanium White.  I omitted the Sap Green.  My focus was on value, not color.  I enhanced the color for my own sanity. Perhaps by the end of winter I’ll figure out how to paint the clusters of thin, bare branches on the outer perimeter of trees without getting fussy.  I’m open to suggestions!  My trees end up looking like they are still wearing leaves.  I’m going for blocking in shapes rather than detail, but I would like to create a more bare branch illusion.

Oil Sketch: oil on prepared birch wood panel 5″ x 5″.  Complementary color scheme … purple / yellow, yellow dominant.

I am on the lookout for wide spots in the road where I can park my car and paint during the upcoming months of winter.

From a wide spot in the road

I am desperate for good spots to park from the front seat of my K-car.  What I really want is a good panoramic view of hedgerows slicing through hilly expanses of fields.  I want that crazy quilt aspect of the landscape.  I have a week to go before I am let loose again to capture the abstract beauty of the landscape I travel through, whether in New Jersey or in Spain or France or Peru.  I sense that roads will continue to play a major role in my paintings.  It is from the line of a road that the kaleidoscope of landscape comes into focus and thrills me to the core.

My little CD case Peerless Watercolor Paper palettes of paint force me to paint by value rather than color.  I am testing out a few more of the water brushes made by Kuretake.  I discovered that my first water brush was a mini brush.  The regular brushes that come in a variety of sizes have longer handles, holding more water, but too long to fit a snack size zip lock bag.

The colors of the Peerless Watercolor Papers are always a bit shocking to me.  They are a bit psychedelic.  It was only while cross country skiing down a mountain in Colorado with my brother in 1983 I remember seeing the landscape in such vivid colors.  I adore these little bits of saturated paper; they force me out of my mold and into another world of limitless possibilities.

Sketch:  Drawn first with my burgundy fountain pen marked Riona (I think it was the name of the original owner) filled with Noodler’s Nikita red ink, followed by washes of Peerless Watercolor Papers using a Kuretake size 9mm water brush.

After a few attempts at value studies with my new Ciao Copic Markers I realized I needed to make value charts and identify my markers by value according to my five step and seven step value scales.

Five and Seven Step Value Scale Analysis of Markers

I have only a small selection of markers, mostly warm and cool grays.  I evaluated the value of each marker considering both a single stroke and a double stroke of each marker.

Comparing marker values to value charts

Note that my value scales run off the edge of the page.  My marker strips also run off the edge of the strip so that I can more easily compare the values.

Plotting the values

After deciding where the value of each marker, for both one stroke and double stroke, I complete my five step and seven step value charts for easy reference.  It is difficult to use the markers effectively when I try to judge the value by the caps on the markers.

Two landscape value studies

Simple value scale landscape sketches are much easier using my reference charts.


The day had been so gray I thought the sunset might also be a bit bland. Instead, the subtle violets were stunning against the neutrals of the dried grasses of the field as the evening light diminished. The reflections in the water were even more subtle, yet beautiful.
Watercolor sketch, Melbourne, FLORIDA.

When I was younger and tougher I painted outside all year long, even in the winter.

New Hampshire Woods in Winter, oil painting 1976

The palette of the New Hampshire Woods en plein air painting doesn’t quite reach into the blues, nor does it stretch past orange into red. There is absolutely no purple to be found.  The option for a color scheme label is therefore “Limited Analagous”, orange, orange yellow, yellow, yellow green, green, and stretching a bit into blue green.  I think the painting would have been stronger had it gone all the way into a few blues to make both the greens and the orange a tad livelier.

When I lived in Boston I fastened my painting supplies on the rack of my bike and peddled near and far, stopping when something struck me as exciting to paint.

Carp Pond in the Bird Sanctuary outside of Boston, 1975, oil painting en plein air

I find it difficult to add a color scheme label to many of my paintings.  Until recently I never thought about the color scheme, I simply painted in response to the scene in front of me or as a response to the colors I was laying down on the canvas.  In my attempt to improve my color sense I find that I can’t depend on the weather conditions to provide me with exciting color.  Nor can I paint fast enough to capture the quickly changing morning and evening sky that illuminates the landscape with colors I want to see on my canvas.  For that reason I am looking to understand color schemes more clearly.  I want to be able to re-create the lighting conditions that excite me whether or not they are true to the reality of the scene.

I recall painting this little painting.  I was in a playful mood, not caring whether or not I was depicting reality.  I even laughed aloud when I made a mark that simply felt good.  No one was around to pass judgment, only the birds.

Since I am attempting to find color scheme labels I will have to mark this one as expanded analogous colors with the primary color as green extending three spaces on either side which then include the complements orange and blue.

To explore my personal color sense I am analyzing the color schemes of painting that continue to evoke an emotion.

Pansies, watercolor en plein air

This little painting was done during one of Betty’s en plein air watercolor classes in 1978.  I recall that it felt as if it painted itself.  The yellow/purple complements are dramatic.  In their pure form they present contrast of both color and value.  I thought of this again when I saw last night’s post (November 7, 2010) by Carol Marine, yellow green apples against red purple cloth reflecting redder purple in a metal bowl.  Her painting took my breath away.  For me, the strength is in the yellow/purple contrast in spite of the fact that the apples are mostly green.  I find the greens and red in the painting are supporting the main characters of yellow and purples.  The yellow is only an accent, yet for me, a focal point.

In the watercolor above, the purple is an accent, but also critical in creating the impact of the painting.  The purple allows the yellow to glow in all its glory.  The muted greens act as a neutral transition between the dominant yellows and the purple accents.  They also provide the dark values that carve the shape of the pansy petals without being front stage, clamoring for your attention.  I consider this a semitriadic complementary color scheme, two complementary colors plus one color that is two places away from one of them. Yellow and purple are the complements, green is two places away from the yellow.